Tuesday, March 6, 2012

A List of Great American Authors: I Need your Help Again!

The sophomore English class I am teaching focuses on American literature. The ending project for the course is a mini-research presentation. Last year, we had the kids research current event topics, which jarred the focus away from the rest of the course. This year, another teacher wanted to try focusing the research on American writers we don't cover in the course. I thought it was a great idea, so we're going to be planning the new unit together.

One of the things we are trying to do is develop a BIG list of American authors for the students to choose from. Ideally, we'd like to have 100 writers for the students to choose from (I have 93 sophomores, and I don't want any doubles between classes). For each author, we'd like to have a number of shorter pieces for the students to choose from. This could be a short novella, a play, a couple of short stories, or a whole slew of poems. The main goal is to get the kids to explore a new author and become relatively knowledgeable about that author's life and works.

Here is where I am hoping you can help me. Below is my starting list (she is creating one as well and we are going to compare when we start planning). We decided to go through the textbook to pull those authors we don't get to during our planned units as viable options for students (you'll see those titles listed sometimes as excerpts). After plowing through the textbook, we are now trying to branch out into other authors so the kids will have a broad range of ethnicities, time periods, etc.

I have already started to list authors off the top of my head, as well as other stories/pieces I think might work for this age group. If there is an author I forgot, or a story I should add to an author, please let me know! Any help you can give me will be MUCH appreciated!
  • Henry W. Longfellow: "Cross of Snow," "Ropewalk"
  • Ralph W. Emerson: "Nature and Self Reliancy"
  • Henry D. Thoreau: Excerpt from "Walden" and "Civil Disobedience"
  • Herman Melville: Excerpt from "Moby Dick" and Piazza Tales?
  • Walt Whitman: "Song of Myself," "Sight at Camp," and "O Captain, My Captain"
  • Emily Dickinson: poems
  • Kate Chopin: "Pair of Silk Stockings" and The Awakening (maybe too difficult?)
  • Mark Twain: "Life on the Mississippi"
  • Lorraine Hansberry: A Raisin in the Sun
  • Jack London: "To Build a Fire"
  • Robert Frost: poetry...
  • Edgar Lee Masters: "Spoon River" Anthology
  • William Faulkner: "A Rose for Emily"
  • Allen Ginsberg: "Homework"
  • John Updike:
  • Alice Walker: "Everyday Use"
  • Amy Tan: Except from Joy Luck Club
  • Sylvia Plath: Poems...maybe The Bell Jar
  • Sandra Cisneros: House on Mango Street
  • Ray Bradbury: short stories (not "Sound of Thunder" since I teach that one)
  • Truman Capote:
  • Kurt Vonnegut: short stories (not "Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow" since I teach that one too!)
  • Jack Kerouac:
  • Stephen King: short stories
  • Maya Angelou: poetry?
  • Edith Wharton: "Roman Fever," other stories
  • Henry James: "Turn of the Screw"
  • Stephen Crane:
  • Benjamin Franklin: excerpts from autobiography
  • Thomas Paine: Common Sense
  • Edgar Allen Poe: short stories and poetry (have to make sure they don't double up)
  • Frederick Douglass: Narrative of a Slave
  • Harriet Tubman: speeches-"Ain't I a Woman?"
  • Nathaniel Hawthorne:
  • T.S. Eliot: "The Waste Land"
  • Langston Hughes:
  • Ezra Pound:
  • e e cummings:
  • Ernest Hemingway:
  • Tennessee Williams: (not allowed to do Streetcar)
  • J.D. Salinger: short stories (No "Catcher in the Rye")
  • Flannery O'Connor: short stories (might be a more difficult choice)
  • Jhumpa Lahari: stories?
  • Martin Luther King Jr: speeches (not "I have a Dream"), maybe Letter from a Birmingham Jail?

What/Who else do I need to add?


  1. I don't know if this list would be useful, but in case it helps you brainstorm:


    Also, I would have found Throeau and Emerson WAY harder than Chopin, in high school.

    How about Harriet Jacobs -- Narrative in the Life of a Slave Girl? Some of Lincoln/Jefferson/FDR/Kennedy's's speeches or biographies?

    Louisa May Alcott!!

    Washington Irving, James Fenimore Cooper, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Margaret Fuller, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Anne Bradstreet, Susan B. Anthony?, Edna St. Vincent Millay, WEB Du Bois, Dreiser, Steinbeck, Yusef Komunyakaa...

    1. We have excerpts from Emerson and Thoreau in the ancient textbook we have, so if a student picks them, I'll probably steer them that direction.

      Thanks for all the other suggestions-I'll definitely add them!

  2. Allen Ginsberg? Howl is a classic!

    Langston Hughes is fantastic. I love the homeless poem.

    If someone chooses Vonnegut, you can point them to the book Wampeters, Foma, and Granfaloons. It's a collection of his short essays and a play. Fantastic. One of my favorite books/collections of his.

    Sojourner Truth - great poem

    1. Thanks for all of these! I'm not as familiar with Vonnegut's short fiction like I want to be, so thanks for the title!

  3. Eudora Welty: short stories

  4. Charles Bukowski wrote a lot of poetry and short stories. His themes were mostly poor America, drinking and women; not the usual classroom fare I don't think.

    1. Lol, yeah, I've only read a couple things by him, but WOW. But...for the right student? maybe. :)

  5. What about Charlotte Perkins Gilman with 'The Yellow Wallpaper'? That's a really interesting one.

    1. I love that story too, but we use it with our seniors for literary criticism. Thank you for suggesting it!

  6. Arthur Miller, "Death of a Salesman"; John Updike, "Rabbit, Run"/"A&P"; for Truman Capote, "Breakfast at Tiffany's"; Edith Wharton, "Ethan Frome"; for Hemingway, "A Moveable Feast"; Zora Neale Hurston, "Their Eyes Were Watching God"; Dorothy Parker, poems and short stories; Jane Smiley, "A Thousand Acres"; Sue Monk Kidd, "Secret Life of Bees"; Tennessee Williams, "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" or "The Glass Menagerie"; Joseph Heller, "Catch-22"; Vonnegut, "Harrison Bergeron"; Ambrose Bierce, "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge"; Willa Cather, "My Antonia" or "O, Pioneers!"

    Sherman Alexie, ANY!; John Dos Passos, USA Trilogy; Don Delillo, "White Noise"; Ken Kesey, "One Flew over the Coo Coo's Nest"; Frank McCourt, "Angela's Ashes"; Carson McCullers, "Member of the Wedding" or "The Heart is a Lonely Hunter"; Cormac McCarthy - ANY; John Irving, "Cider House Rules" or "A Prayer for Owen Meany" or "The World According to Garp"; Neil Simon, "Barefoot in the Park" or "Brighton Beach Memoirs"; William Styron, "The Confessions of Nat Turner" or "Sophie's Choice"; Upton Sinclair, "The Jungle"; Hunter S. Thompson, "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas"

    Okay, I tried! :)

    1. WOW! Thank you for such a big list! I will definitely look into a lot of these!

  7. I would add The Story of an Hour to Chopin. I saw Martin Luther King up there, so I'm wondering if you've considered adding Malcolm X; his Prison Studies always interested my students. Susan Glaspell (A Jury of Her Peers) is a good one too. :)

    1. Malcolm X would be a good contrast...and thanks for the others! I'll add them on!

  8. I know you would like to get as many writers as possible, but I think your students would greatly benefit if you added more works by the same authors to your list rather than more authors. For instance, there are several other GREAT novellas by Henry James besides The Turn of the Screw (Daisy Miller, Washington Square, etc.). Edith Wharton has some, too. (Ethan Frome, The Bunner Sisters, Summer, etc.) Jack London has, too (The Sea-Wolf, Call of the Wild). Truman Capote has several fantastic stories. Breakfast at Tiffany's is also a great novella of his. As far as writers your neglecting, these are some key ones: Carson McCullers; Fenimore Cooper (great short stories, including "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow"; Fitzgerald (who has some superlative short fiction); Katherine Ann Porter (great stories); James Baldwin (Giovanni's Room-great novella). In general, I think you should offer more possibilities for the above-listed canonical American writers.

    Hope this Helps!
    Let me know if you'd like more suggestions.


    1. I meant Washington Irving wrote "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow," not Fenimore Cooper. Though Cooper has some excellent tales as well.

    2. Yes, I definitely want to offer them as many choices as possible. Right now, we are still planning the project and figuring out options for them. We do have to be careful not to offer a story or novel that is read in another class, and be mindful of the amount of time they will have and their ability level.

  9. Joyce Carol Oates!!!! And John Irving. And what about Philip Roth?

    1. Thanks for the names! I will add them on!

  10. Jennifer Egan -- Goon Squad is interconnected short stories, maybe pick a couple?

    Nikki Giovanni - "Choices" is one of my favorite poems.

    1. Oh, Nikki Giovanni is great. Can't believe I forgot her!

  11. Definitely Charlotte Perkins Gilman "The Yellow Wallpaper." I'd also add Ralph Ellison. His novel Invisible Man is very episodic, and his "Battle Royale" chapter is frequently included in anthologies as a standalone.

    Raymond Carver "A Small, Good Thing" or "Careful" or "Cathedral." John Cheever's "The Swimmer," Andre Dubus' "The Killers" or any of his stories really.

    Margaret Fuller's "The Great Lawsuit"

    For Frederick Douglass I'd add "What to a Slave is the Fourth of July?" Fantastic speech and sometimes more accessible.

    Edna St. Vincent Millay is also really great, and a lot of her poems are sarcastic and edgy.

    Sherman Alexie also has some shorter pieces and essays that would be great. Plus, he's contemporary which is nice.

    1. Thank you for all the new names! I haven't read anything by Alexie, but I've heard good things, and the contemporary aspect is good!

  12. John Steinbeck: The Pearl, Of Mice & Men, The Red Pony

    Langston Hughes: The Ways of White Folk (BRILLIANT!)

    Kurt Vonnegut: God Bless You, Dr. Kevorkian (novella) or Look at the Birdie (short story collection).

    Sylvia Plath: Ariel

    Gertrude Stein: Paris, France

    Raymond Carver: "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love."

    F. Scott Fitzgerald: Taps at Reveille (short story collection), Babylon Revisited (short story collection)

    Sherwood Anderson: Winesburg, Ohio, Death in the Woods and Other Stories

    Willa Cather: The Troll Garden, April Twilights" (poetry), Youth and the Bright Medusa

    Nathanael West: Day of the Locust, Miss Lonelyhearts

    Alice Walker: The Color Purple, In Love and Trouble (short story collection which has "Everyday Use" - a brilliant story)

    John Fante: Ask the Dust (novel) Dago Red(short stories)

    Hemingway: The Torrents of Spring (novella), The Old Man and the Sea, In Our Time (short story collection), The Snows of Kilimanjaro (short story collection)

    Melville: "Bartleby the Scrivener" and "The Paradise of Bachelors and the Tartarus of Maids"

    Twain: "The Jumping Frog" and "The Million Pound Bank Note" (and maybe The Mysterious Stranger - an unfinished novella, my favorite of Twain's works).

    Edmund White: A Boy's Own Story

    I also see J.D. Salinger on the list - for recommendations, I would go with: "A Perfect Day for Bananafish," "To Esme, With Love and Squalor," and "Teddy."

    1. I knew you would have good suggestions for me. :) Didn't you focus in American lit?

      And I love that you picked "A Perfect Day for Bananafish." LOVE that story, but we teach it with our seniors.

    2. Yes, indeedy! B.A. - English. M.A. - American Lit. :)

      Just saw someone mention Sarah Orne Jewett down there ... that's another great suggestion. A Country Doctor an A White Heron and Other Stories would be good ones to go with.

  13. Zora Neale Hurston has a great mix of short stories, essays, and plays that would be great for this project. The students could read some of each and really get a sense of how she writes across various genres.

    For T.S. Eliot, I would definitely make The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock one of the poems on the list. It's more accessible than The Waste Land, and the subject is something I think high school students would connect to more. It's definitely the best introduction to Eliot I can think of. You might also consider his essays, especially "On Verse Libre" and "Tradition and the Individual Talent," which are both relatively easy to understand and give a sense of his ideas about poetry.

    For Alice Walker I would also recommend her essays, especially “Beauty: When the Other Dancer is the Self."

    1. Thanks for the new suggestions!

      I love "Prufrock," but they read it earlier in the year. I do like The Waste Land, but I think it would be a choice for a more advanced student!

  14. All above are great selections. If you are still looking for more ideas, try the Library of America http://www.loa.org/catalog.jsp which will give you the table of contents for each book and might help give you the last few you need.

  15. I echo the suggestion for Charlotte Perkins Gilman's The Yellow Wallpaper.

    Young Goodman Brown could be a good read for the Nathaniel Hawthorne study.

    I also think it would be great to assign a study Louisa May Alcott that focuses on something other than her Little Women series (e.g., The Inheritance, her short stories).

    I've heard great things about Anne Morrow Lindbergh's Gift From the Sea, and her significance as a historical figure would add an interesting element.

    Good luck with this! You've got a great list going. :)

    1. yes, Alcott would be a great choice.

      I wish I could do Yellow Wallpaper since it is one of my favorites, but we use it with our senior composition classes.

  16. Lots of great ideas here. I would also add Daisy Miller as an option for H. James. For Kate Chopin, another story is "Désirée's Baby." (And I read The Awakening in high school, so it's not necessarily too hard for HS, although it was an AP class.) I've never read it, but I've heard good things about Sarah Orne Jewett's novella The Country of the Pointed Firs. Also not read, and know almost nothing about it, but I have on my own list Charles W. Chesnutt (short stories), an African-American writer.

    It sounds like you're well on your way to a great list. Good luck!

    1. Thanks for the suggestions!

      I read Awakening as a senior for my AP class, so I don't know how it would work for these kids...

  17. Hawthorne's "Rapaccini's Daughter"

    I certainly would love to be your student! This sounds so awesome!

  18. Wow, you've got a lot of suggestions! I'll throw a few in:

    Henry James' "Daisy Miller" - I see you've already listed "Turn of the Screw" - "Daisy Miller" is short too and I've always had a soft spot for it.

    Something by E.L. Doctorow - I was introduced to American lit. via "The Book of Daniel" - still remains one of my favourites.


  19. You have some great choices listed already! Not sure if anyone mentioned "Story of an Hour" by Chopin but it might be a better pick compared to "The Awakening." Although, I read that for an AP English class in high school so if you have a student who seems able to handle it, I think it is a very powerful read.


  20. So much fun. I just taught Bartleby the Scrivener and it has been fun. For more contmporary writers, I really like T.C. Boyle. After the Plague is a fun story. I've also had success with students writing about John Cheever The Swimmer and John Updike A&P.

  21. You should definitely add "Paul Revere's Ride" to your list for Longfellow. There is a lot of evidence arguing that much of the poem is an allegory for the antislavery movement. Longfellow was a fervent abolitionist, so it would make for an interesting research project.

  22. A lot of usable suggestions. Two worth looking into:

    Isaac Bashevis Singer, Collected Stories

    Billy Collins, New and Selected Poems [Recently Poet Lauriat of the US; poems are accessible but substantial].

  23. I love Mark Twain's "Advice to Youth."

    I'm reading Charlotte Perkins Gilman's short stories.

    Sarah Orne Jewett also has some great short stories/novellas.

    Zora Neale Hurston also has a ton of work that might be good.

    MLK, Jr's “Where Do We Go From Here?" speech is really good, if a bit challenging.

    Sojourner Truth actually gave the "Ain't I a Woman" speech. Harriet Tubman was illiterate, but dictated her memoir to a supporter.

  24. Hi Allie,

    You have tons of great suggestions, and most of the ones I had in mind have been covered. I agree that Sherwood Anderson, Eudora Welty, John Steinbeck, and F. Scott Fitzgerald are all important American authors who have excellent short stories to choose from.

    It doesn't look like anyone has given you a short story for John Updike. He wrote a short story cycle called, "Too Far to Go," and you could use one of those. Richard Wright also wrote a short story collection called, "Uncle Tom's Children," which is really powerful and worth considering.

    Nathaniel Hawthorne has an enormous collection of short stories to choose from. Two of my favorites at that age were "Dr. Heidegger's Experiment" and "The Birth-Mark."

    Good luck! It sounds like a wonderful project for the students!

    1. I love "The Birthmark." "Rappaccini's Daughter" is also fantastic, as well as "Young Goodman Brown," of course.

      I saw Poe mentioned - be sure to include "The Cask of Amontillado," "Ligeia" and "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" for short stories (though the latter is more of a novelette). Poems: "The Bells," "Annabell Lee," and "The Raven."

  25. I would also add Melville's "Bartleby, the Scrivener" to your list. It's a though provoking read and great for discussion.

  26. wow, tons of options here. I didn't read all the comments so I'll probably overlap. What about HArlem Renaissance stories or authors: Claude McKay (poetry), Nella Larsen (two novellas). Chesnutt wrote short stories a decade before the Harlem Renaissance. There are tons more but i don't know which are too hard for that age level...See the Classics Circuit intro posts for ideas...http://classics.rebeccareid.com/2009/12/harlem-renaissance-sign-up/